Winegar: A way forward
I have watched the events unfolding across the country over the past several weeks with a mixture of horror and regret; horror at the unnecessary death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and regret that the police did not act on the recommendations from the 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
I spent more than 32 years as a police officer, the last half as a police chief. I researched police officers as part of my doctoral research at Portland State University. I spent more than a decade training police officers in Oregon, including five years as the Leadership Training Coordinator in the Center for Policing Excellence at the Public Safety Academy in Salem, Oregon. As a result of my training responsibilities and efforts at the Center for Policing Excellence at the Academy, I was invited to provide testimony to the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015.
The report from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing identified what experts agreed needed to be done to bring the police into the 21st century — a blueprint for a way forward. The report and recommendations are organized into "six pillars": Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety. The report identified specific actions that should be taken to implement the recommendations.
Did anything change?
The Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training operates the only police academy in the state. Many of the recommendations in the Task Force Report were already incorporated into the academy curriculum prior to 2015, and additional changes were in progress at the time the Task Force Report was released. About a year after the Task Force Report was issued, curriculum at the academy already addressed seven of the 12 recommendations or actions items that were applicable to police training.
Dr. Cody Telep at Arizona State University has surveyed supervisors from police agencies in Oregon, and the supervisors say the biggest obstacles to implementing innovation and reform in policing were budgetary limitations, the police culture, a general resistance to change, or a lack of leadership.
The Task Force Report identifies the first steps that need to be taken. Police leaders will need to commit to working with and listening to members of their community.
But the police need to go beyond just listening.
Rather than a "fixed mindset," the police need to adopt a "growth mindset" as identified by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford; the growth mindset is characterized by an approach that embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, and a belief that they can change.
In Oregon, there are approximately 180 police agencies, nearly all of which are city- or county-level agencies. Local government officials, both elected and appointed, play an essential role in police reform.
In collaboration with the community and the police, local government officials can facilitate the input from all stakeholders. They can allocate resources to reform efforts, and hold appointed police leaders accountable for results. Equally as important, they are in a position to address some of the underlying quality of life issues and encourage community cohesion.
Communities, including individual citizens and local religious, civic and nonprofit groups, play a critical role in police reform. They need to engage in community meetings and problem-solving efforts in collaboration with the police.
People are busy with their daily lives, working, raising families, and related activities, but if there is going to be true police reform, communities need to commit to and engage in a sustained effort. The community and the police need to be cautious and not get caught up advocating for change that will not be effective.
There is solid research on what works in policing; that information can help focus on changes that will have the most impact. The community needs to not just advocate for change but also seek to understand the challenges facing the police in their community.
Reforming the police will not be easy, but it is necessary. The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing provides a blueprint for the way forward. The task for communities, local governments, and police agencies will be to tackle the tough challenges ahead and commit to change; this effort will require leadership from all three.
The changes in policing are only part of the work that needs to be done. Broader societal issues also need to be considered, including education, employment, drug abuse treatment, mental health resources, alternatives to incarceration, to name a few.
This will not be a short-term effort; we are looking at structural change — it will take years. But if we don't start now, and make the commitment to carry through, nothing will change.
Steve Winegar is a retired police officer who served as chief of the Tualatin Police Department from 1987 to 2003.
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